Under The Lilacs

Louisa May Alcott

Chapter 17 - Betty's Bravery


"Celia, I've a notion that we ought to give Ben something. A sort of peace-offering, you know; for he feels dreadfully hurt about our suspecting him," said Thorny, at dinner that day.

"I see he does, though he tries to seem as bright and pleasant as ever. I do not wonder, and I've been thinking what I could do to soothe his feelings. Can you suggest any thing? "

"Cuff-buttons. I saw some jolly ones over at Berryville, oxidized silver, with dogs' heads on them, yellow eyes, and all as natural as could be. Those, now, would just suit him for his go-to-meeting white shirts, - neat, appropriate, and in memoriam."

Miss Celia could not help laughing, it was such a boyish suggestion; but she agreed to it, thinking Thorny knew best, and hoping the yellow-eyed dogs would be as balm to Ben's wounds.

"Well, dear, you may give those, and Lita shall give the little whip with a horse's foot for a handle, if it is not gone. I saw it at the harness shop in town; and Ben admired it so much that I planned to give it to him on his birthday."

"That will tickle him immensely; and if you'd just let him put brown tops to my old boots, and stick a cockade in his hat when he sits up behind the phaeton, he'd be a happy fellow," laughed Thorny, who had discovered that one of Ben's ambitions was to be a tip-top groom."

"No, thank you; those things are out of place in America, and would be absurd in a small country place like this. His blue suit and straw hat please me better for a boy; though a nicer little groom, in livery or out, no one could desire, and you may tell him I said so."

"I will, and he'll look as proud as punch; for he thinks every word you say worth a dozen from any one else. But won't you give him something? Just some little trifle, to show that we are both eating humble pie, feeling sorry about the mouse money."

"I shall give him a set of school-books, and try to get him ready to begin when vacation is over. An education is the best present we can make him; and I want you to help me fit him to enter as well is he can. Bab and Betty began, little dears, - lent him their books and taught all they knew; so Ben got a taste, and, with the right encouragement, would like to go on, I am sure."

"That's so like you Celia! Always thinking of the best thing and doing it handsomely. I'll help like a house a-fire, if he will let me; but, all day, he's been as stiff as a poker, so I don't believe he forgives me a bit."

"He will in time, and if you are kind and patient, he will be glad to have you help him. I shall make it a sort of favor to me on his part, to let you see to his lessons, now and then. It will be quite true, for I don't want you to touch your Latin or algebra till cool weather; teaching him will be play to you."

Miss Celia's last words made her brother unbend his brows, for he longed to get at his books again, and the idea of being tutor to his "man-servant" did not altogether suit him.

"I'll tool him along at a great pace, if he will only go. Geography and arithmetic shall be my share, and you may have the writing and spelling; it gives me the fidgets to set copies', and hear children make a mess of words. Shall I get the books when I buy the other things? Can I go this afternoon?"

"Yes, here is the list; Bab gave it to me. You can go if you will come home early and have your tooth filled."

Gloom fell at once upon Thorny's beaming face, and he gave such a shrill whistle that his sister jumped in her chair, as she added, persuasively, -

"It won't hurt a bit, now, and the longer you leave it the worse it will be. Dr. Mann is ready at any time; and, once over, you will be at peace for months. Come, my hero, give your orders, and take one of the girls to support you in the trying hour. Have Bab; she will enjoy it, and amuse you with her chatter."

"As if I needed girls round for such a trifle as that!" returned Thorny with a shrug, though he groaned inwardly at the prospect before him, as most of us do on such occasions. "I wouldn't take Bab at any price; she'd only get into some scrape, and upset the whole plan. Betty is the chicken for me, - a real little lady, and as nice and purry as a kitten."

"Very well; ask her mother, and take good care of her. Let her tuck her dolly in, and she will be contented anywhere. There's a fine air, and the awning is on the phaeton, so you won't feel the sun. Start about three, and drive carefully."

Betty was charmed to go, for Thorny was a sort of prince in her eyes; and to be invited to such a grand expedition was an overwhelming honor. Bab was not surprised, for, since Sancho's loss, she had felt herself in disgrace, and been unusually meek; Ben let her "severely alone," which much afflicted her, for he was her great admiration, and had been pleased to express his approbation of her agility and courage so often, that she was ready to attempt any fool-hardy feat to recover his regard. But vainly did she risk her neck jumping off the highest beams in the barn, trying to keep her balance standing on the donkey's back, and leaping the lodge gate at a bound; Ben vouchsafed no reward by a look, a smile, a word of commendation; and Bab felt that nothing but Sancho's return would ever restore the broken friendship.

Into faithful Betty's bosom did she pour forth her remorseful lamentations, often bursting out with the passionate exclamation, "If I could only find Sanch, and give him back to Ben, I wouldn't care if I tumbled down and broke all my legs right away!" Such abandonment of woe made a deep impression on Betty; and she fell into the way of consoling her sister by cheerful prophecies, and a firm belief that the organ-man would yet appear with the lost darling.

"I've got five cents of my berry money, and I'll buy you an orange if I see any," promised Betty stepping to kiss Bab, as the phaeton came to the door, and Thorny handed in a young lady whose white frock was so stiff with starch that it crackled like paper.

"Lemons will do if oranges are gone. I like 'em to suck with lots of sugar," answered Bab, feeling that the sour sadly predominated in her cup just now.

"Don't she look sweet, the dear!" murmured Mrs. Moss, proudly surveying her youngest.

She certainly did, sitting under the fringed canopy with "Belinda," all in her best, upon her lap, as she turned to smile and nod, with a face so bright and winsome under the little blue hat, that it was no wonder mother and sister thought there never was such a perfect child as "our Betty."

Dr. Mann was busy when they arrived, but would be ready in an hour; so they did their shopping at once, having made sure of the whip as they came along. Thorny added some candy to Bab's lemon, and Belinda had a cake, which her mamma obligingly ate for her. Betty thought that Aladdin's palace could not have been more splendid than the jeweller's shop where the canine cuff-buttons were bought; but when they came to the book-store, she forgot gold, silver, and precious stones, to revel in picture-books, while Thorny selected Ben's modest school outfit. Seeing her delight, and feeling particularly lavish with plenty of money in his pocket, the young gentleman completed the child's bliss by telling her to choose whichever one she liked best out of the pile of Walter Crane's toy-books lying in bewildering colors before her.

"This one; Bab always wanted to see the dreadful cupboard, and there's a picture of it here," answered Betty, clasping a gorgeous copy of "Bluebeard" to the little bosom, which still heaved with the rapture of looking at that delicious mixture of lovely Fatimas in pale azure gowns, pink Sister Annes on the turret top, crimson tyrants, and yellow brothers with forests of plumage blowing wildly from their mushroom-shaped caps.

Very good; there you are, then. Now, come on, for the fun is over and the grind begins," said Thorny, marching away to his doom, with his tongue in his tooth, and trepidation in his manly breast.

"Shall I shut my eyes and hold your head?" quavered devoted Betty, as they went up the stairs so many reluctant feet had mounted before them.

"Nonsense, child, never mind me! You look out of window and amuse yourself; we shall not be long, I guess;" and in went Thorn silently hoping that the dentist had been suddenly called away, or some person with an excruciating toothache would be waiting to take ether, and so give our young man an excuse for postponing his job.

But no; Dr. Mann was quite at leisure, and, full of smiling interest, awaited his victim, laying forth his unpleasant little tools with the exasperating alacrity of his kind. Glad to be released from any share in the operation, Betty retired to the back window to be as far away as possible, and for half in hour was so absorbed in her book that poor Thorny might have groaned dismally without disturbing her.

"Done now, directly, only a trifle of polishing off and a look round," said Dr. Mann, at last; and Thorny, with a yawn that nearly rent him asunder, called out, -

"Thank goodness! Pack up, Bettykin."

"I'm all ready!" and, shutting her book with a start, she slipped down from the easy chair in a great hurry.

But "looking round" took time; and, before the circuit of Thorny's mouth was satisfactorily made, Betty had become absorbed by a more interesting tale than even the immortal "Bluebeard." A noise of children's voices in the narrow alley-way behind the house attracted her attention; the long window opened directly on the yard, and the gate swung in the wind. Curious as Fatima, Betty went to look; but all she saw was a group of excited boys peeping between the bars of another gate further down.

"What's the matter?" she asked of two small girls, who stood close by her, longing but not daring to approach the scene of action.

"Boys chasing a great black cat, I believe," answered one child.

"Want to come and see?" added the other, politely extending the invitation to the stranger.

The thought of a cat in trouble would have nerved Betty to face a dozen boys; so she followed at once, meeting several lads hurrying away on some important errand, to judge from their anxious countenances.

"Hold tight, Jimmy, and let 'em peek, if they want to. He can't hurt anybody now," said one of the dusty huntsmen, who sat on the wide coping of the wall, while two others held the gate, as if a cat could only escape that way.

"You peek first, Susy, and see if it looks nice," said one little girl, boosting her friend so that she could look through the bars in the upper part of the gate.

"No; it 's only an ugly old dog!" responded Susy, losing all interest at once, and descending with a bounce.

"He's mad! and Jud's gone to get his gun, so we can shoot him!" called out one mischievous boy, resenting the contempt expressed for their capture.

"Ain't, neither!" howled another lad from his perch. "Mad dogs won't drink; and this one is lapping out of a tub of water."

"Well, he may be, and we don't know him, and he hasn't got any muzzle on, and the police will kill him if Jud don't," answered the sanguinary youth who had first started the chase after the poor animal, which had come limping into town, so evidently a lost dog that no one felt any hesitation in stoning him.

"We must go right home; my mother is dreadful 'fraid of mad dogs, and so is yours," said Susy; and, having satisfied their curiosity, the young ladies prudently retired.

But Betty had not had her "peep," and could not resist one look; for she had heard of these unhappy animals, and thought Bab would like to know how they looked. So she stood on tip-toe and got a good view of a dusty, brownish dog, lying on the grass close by, with his tongue hanging out while he panted, as if exhausted by fatigue and fear, for he still cast apprehensive glances at the wall which divided him from his tormentors.

His eyes are just like Sanch's," said Betty to herself, unconscious that she spoke aloud, till she saw the creature prick up his cars and half rise, as if he had been called.

"He looks as if he knew me, but it isn't our Sancho; he was a lovely dog." Betty said that to the little boy peeping in beside her; but before he could make any reply, the brown beast stood straight up with an inquiring bark, while his eyes shone like topaz, and the short tail wagged excitedly.

"Why, that's just the way Sanch used to do!" cried Betty, bewildered by the familiar ways of this unfamiliar-looking dog.

As if the repetition of his name settled his own doubts, he leaped toward the gate and thrust a pink nose between the bars, with a howl of recognition as Betty's face was more clearly seen. The boys tumbled precipitately from their perches, and the little girl fell back alarmed, yet could not bear to run away and leave those imploring eyes pleading to her through the bars so eloquently.

"He acts just like our dog, but I don't see how it can be him. Sancho, Sancho, is it really you?" called Betty, at her wits' end what to do.

"Bow, wow, wow!" answered the well-known bark, and the little tail did all it could to emphasize the sound, while the eyes were so full of dumb love and joy, the child could not refuse to believe that this ugly stray was their own Sancho strangely transformed.

All of a sudden, the thought rushed into her mind, how glad Ben would be! - and Bab would feel all happy again. "I must carry him home."

Never stopping to think of danger, and forgetting all her doubts, Betty caught the gate handle out of Jimmy's grasp, exclaiming eagerly: "He is our dog! Let me go in; I ain't afraid."

"Not till Jud comes back; he told us we mustn't," answered the astonished Jimmy, thinking the little girl as mad as the dog.

With a confused idea that the unknown Jud had gone for a gun to shoot Sanch, Betty gave a desperate pull at the latch and ran into the yard, bent on saving her friend. That it was a friend there could he no further question; for, though the creature rushed at her as if about to devour her at a mouthful, it was only to roll ecstatically at her feet, lick her hands, and gaze into her face, trying to pant out the welcome which he could not utter. An older and more prudent person would have waited to make sure before venturing in; but confiding Betty knew little of the danger which she might have run; her heart spoke more quickly than her head, and, not stopping to have the truth proved, she took the brown dog on trust, and found it was indeed dear Sanch.

Sitting on the grass, she hugged him close, careless of tumbled hat, dusty paws on her clean frock, or a row of strange boys staring from the wall.

"Darling doggy, where have you been so long?" she cried, the great thing sprawling across her lap, as if he could not get near enough to his brave little protector. "Did they make you black and beat you, dear? Oh, Sanch, where is your tail - your pretty tail?"

A plaintive growl and a pathetic wag was all the answer he could make to these tender inquiries; for never would the story of his wrongs be known, and never could the glory of his doggish beauty be restored. Betty was trying to comfort him with pats and praises, when a new face appeared at the gate, and Thorny's authoritative voice called out, -

"Betty Moss, what on earth are you doing in there with that dirty beast?"

"It's Sanch, it's Sanch! Oh, come and see! shrieked Betty, flying up to lead forth her prize. But the gate was held fast, for some one said the words, "Mad dog," and Thorny was very naturally alarmed, because he had already seen one. "Don't stay there another minute. Get up on that bench and I'll pull you over," directed Thorny, mounting the wall to rescue his charge in hot haste; for the dog did certainly behave queerly, limping hurriedly to and fro, as if anxious to escape. No wonder, when Sancho heard a voice he knew, and recognized another face, yet did not meet as kind a welcome as before.

"No, I'm not coming out till he does. It is Sanch, and I'm going to take him home to Ben," answered Betty, decidedly, as she wet her handkerchief in the rain water to bind up the swollen paw that had travelled many miles to rest in her little hand again.

"You're crazy, child. That is no more Ben's dog than I am."

"See if it isn't!" cried Betty, perfectly unshaken in her faith; and, recalling the words of command as well as she could, she tried to put Sancho through his little performance, as the surest proof that she was right. The poor fellow did his best, weary and foot-sore though he was; but when it came to taking his tail in his mouth to waltz, he gave it up, and, dropping down, hid his face in his paws, as he always did when any of his tricks failed. The act was almost pathetic now, for one of the paws was bandaged, and his whole attitude expressed the humiliation of a broken spirit.

That touched Thorny, and, quite convinced both of the dog's sanity and identity, he sprung down from the wall with Ben's own whistle, which gladdened Sancho's longing ear as much as the boy's rough caresses comforted his homesick heart.

"Now, let's carry him right home, and surprise Ben. Won't he be pleased?" said Betty, so in earnest that she tried to lift the big brute in spite of his protesting yelps.

"You are a little trump to find him out in spite of all the horrid things that have been done to him. We must have a rope to lead him, for he's got no collar and no muzzle. He has got friends though, and I'd like to see any one touch him now. Out of the way, there, boy!" Looking as commanding as a drum-major, Thorny cleared a passage, and with one arm about his neck, Betty proudly led her treasure magnanimously ignoring his late foes, and keeping his eye fixed on the faithful friend whose tender little heart had known him in spite of all disguises.

"I found him, sir," and the lad who had been most eager for the shooting, stepped forward to claim any reward that might be offered for the now valuable victim.

"I kept him safe till she came," added the jailer Jimmy, speaking for himself.

"I said he wasn't mad", cried a third, feeling that his discrimination deserved approval.

"Jud ain't my brother," said the fourth, eager to clear his skirts from all ofi-ence.

"But all of you chased and stoned him, I suppose? You'd better look out or you'll get reported to the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals."

With this awful and mysterious threat, Thorny slammed the doctor's gate in the faces of the mercenary youths, nipping their hopes in the bud, and teaching them a good lesson.

After one astonished stare, Lita accepted Sancho without demur, and they greeted one another cordially, nose to nose, instead of shaking hands. Then the dog nestled into his old place under the linen duster with a grunt of intense content, and soon fell fast asleep, quite worn out with fatigue. No Roman conqueror bearing untold treasures with him, ever approached the Eternal City feeling richer or prouder than did Miss Betty as she rolled rapidly toward the little brown house with the captive won by her own arms. Poor Belinda was forgotten in a corner, "Bluebeard" was thrust under the cushion, and the lovely lemon was squeezed before its time by being sat upon; for all the child could think of was Ben's delight, Bab's remorseful burden lifted off, "Ma's" surprise, and Miss Celia's pleasure. She could hardly realize the happy fact, and kept peeping under the cover to be sure that the dear dingy bunch at her feet was truly there.

"I'll tell you how we'll do it," said Thorny, breaking a long silence as Betty composed herself with an irrepressible wriggle of delight after one of these refreshing peeps. "We'll keep Sanch hidden, and smuggle him into Ben's old room at your house. Then I'll drive on to the barn, and not say a word, but send Ben to get something out of that room. You just let him in, to see what he'll do. I'll bet you a dollar he won't know his own dog."

"I don't believe I can keep from screaming right out when I see him, but I'll try. Oh, won't it be fun!" - and Betty clapped her hands in joyful anticipation of that exciting moment.

A nice little plan, but Master Thorny forgot the keen senses of the amiable animal snoring peacefully among his boots; and, when they stopped at the Lodge, he had barely time to say in a whisper,

"Ben's coming; cover Sanch and let me get him in quick!" before the dog was out of the phaeton like a bombshell, and the approaching boy went down as if shot, for Sancho gave one leap, and the two rolled over and over, with a shout and a bark of rapturous recognition.

"Who is hurt?" asked Mrs. Moss, running out with floury hands uplifted in alarm.

"Is it a bear?" cried Bab, rushing after her, beater in hand, for a dancing bear was the delight of her heart.

"Sancho's found! Sancho's found!" shouted Thorny, throwing up his hat like a lunatic.

"Found, found, found!" echoed Betty, dancing wildly about as if she too had lost her little wits.

"Where? how? when? who did it?" asked Mrs. Moss, clapping her dusty hands delightedly.

"It isn't; it's an old dirty brown thing," stammered Bab, as the dog came uppermost for a minute, and then rooted into Ben's jacket as if he smelt a woodchuck, and was bound to have him out directly.

Then Thorny, with many interruptions from Betty, poured forth the wondrous tale, to which Bab and his mother listened breathlessly, while the muffins burned as black as a coal, and nobody cared a bit.

"My precious lamb, how did you dare to do such a thing?" exclaimed Mrs. Moss, hugging the small heroine with mingled admiration and alarm.

"I'd have dared, and slapped those horrid boys, too. I wish I'd gone!" and Bab felt that she had for ever lost the chance of distinguishing herself.

"Who cut his tail off?" demanded Ben, in a menacing tone, as he came uppermost in his turn, dusty, red and breathless, but radiant.

"The wretch who stole him, I suppose; and he deserves to be hung," answered Thorny, hotly.

"If ever I catch him, I'll - I'll cut his nose off," roared Ben, with such a vengeful glare that Sanch barked fiercely; and it was well that the unknown "wretch" was not there, for it would have gone hardly with him, since even gentle Betty frowned, while Bab brandished the egg-beater menacingly, and their mother indignantly declared that "it was too bad!"

Relieved by this general outburst, they composed their outraged feelings; and while the returned wanderer went from one to another to receive a tender welcome from each, the story of his recovery was more calmly told. Ben listened with his eye devouring the injured dog; and when Thorny paused, he turned to the little heroine, saying solemnly, as he laid her hand with his own on Sancho's head,

"Betty Moss, I'll never forget what you did; from this minute half of Sanch is your truly own, and if I die you shall have the whole of him," and Ben sealed the precious gift with a sounding kiss on either chubby check.

Betty was so deeply touched by this noble bequest, that the blue eyes filled and would have overflowed if Sanch had not politely offered his tongue like a red pocket-handkerchlef, and so made her laugh the drops away, while Bab set the rest off by saying gloomily, -

"I mean to play with all the mad dogs I can find; then folks will think I'm smart and give me nice things."

"Poor old Bab, I'll forgive you now, and lend you my half whenever you want it," said Ben, feeling at peace now with all mankind, including, girls who tagged.

"Come and show him to Celia," begged Thorny, eager to fight his battles over again.

"Better wash him up first; he's a sight to see, poor thing," suggested Mrs. Moss, as she ran in, suddenly remembering her muffins.

"It will take a lot of washings to get that brown stuff off. See, his pretty, pink skin is all stained with it. We'll bleach him out, and his curls will grow, and he'll be as good as ever - all but - "

Ben could not finish, and a general wail went up for the departed tassel that would never wave proudly in the breeze again.

"I'll buy him a new one. Now form the procession and let us go in style," said Thorny, cheerily, as he swung Betty to his shoulder and marched away whistling "Hail! the conquering hero comes," while Ben and his Bow-wow followed arm-in-arm, and Bab brought up the rear, banging on a milk-pan with the egg-beater.